Friday, March 24, 2006

The Bonds Case

Yeah, we all know that Bonds has his lawywers suing the San Francisco Chronicle, Gotham Books, and the authors of Game of Shadows for using "illegally obtained" Grand Jury testimony in the book. Bonds's lawyer fired off this gem earlier today:

"His bat speaks for himself and he's not going to speak on this action and this book."

True, Bonds's bat speak of an elite player. The question, however, is how is said elite player's credibility affected when when steroid-enhanced muscles are driving it through the strike zone? Apparently Bonds and his lawyers aren't prepared to answer such a question.

The folks over at Sports Law Blog have a more detailed analysis of this issue than I could ever conjure up.

I Cannot Believe What I Just Saw

Last night…wow last night. I was so stunned that I couldn’t even do a write up at the time. Hell, I don’t think I can even do justice to a write up at this point. But I’ve got nothing else today, so why not give it a shot?

Let’s start with UCLA-Zags, since I was less emotionally invested in it. Truth be told, I’m entered in two pools, one with my first instinct picks and the other with my reasoned-out picks (one of these years, I’m going to come up with the perfect mix of logic and intuition, netting me a pool victory). In both pools I had a UCLA-Gonzaga match-up, and since I had a dickens of a time deciding who would win that potential game, I split them. Not the most decisive move of my life, but hey, if the game happened, I had one winner guaranteed.


Now, I’m assuming most of you watched last night, since for some unbeknownst reason, we on the East Coast got the Zags-UCLA game. Yeah, because we don’t care about regional considerations or anything. No one would have rather seen the entirety of the Big East game at all. Nooooo. Thankfully, those kind folks over at continue with their on-demand service, allowing me to watch 40 minutes of Kevin Pittsnoggle.

Thankfully, the powers that be at CBS realized they had a classic in the making, as WVU surged in the second half, even leading at some points after trailing by 12 at the half. So I watched on my TV – considerably larger than my computer screen – as WVU kept it within five in the final minutes of the game, agonizing over each missed shot. Take the nail-biter situation the game was in and combine it with my attachment to Big East teams, and you have Joe laying on the floor, hanging on to an ever-slimming chance that these seniors will outlast their opponents.

WVU down by three, waning seconds of the game, and with five ticks left, Kevin Pittsnoggle nailed a three to tie it. There isn’t a screenwriter out there who could have devised a more appropriate and thrilling end to regulation. The affable senior, the guy getting all the hype, Kevin Pittsnoggle, nailing down the clutch three to give his team another life.

But before I could finish screaming “PIIIIIIIIIIIIIIITTTTTTTTTTTTTSSSSSSSSSSNOOOOOOOOOOOGGGGGGGGGGGGGGGGGGGGGLLLLLEEEEEEEE!,” Kenton Paulino was lining up for a Texas miracle. As he launched it, all I saw was a WVU paw in his grill, easing me a bit. “He’s not going to make an off-balance, long three with a hand in his face,” thought I, resolved that WVU could run away with the game in OT. But the ball was moving in slow motion in my mind, and the closer it got to the hoop, the more I knew it was hitting the bottom of the net. My eyes may not have been wide with amazement when the ball was launched, but they surely were before the net splashed. It was over. My precious Mountaineers were eliminated.

CBS didn’t allow me any time to mourn, as they immediately switched back to the Zags-Bruins game, which was heating up a bit. Zags still had a convincing lead, but UCLA wasn’t playing like the chump team they were in the first half. In fact, Zags came out in cruise control for the second half. UCLA cut the lead with some well timed shots and some sloppy play from the Bulldogs, forcing Mark Few to call a quick timeout. And it happened again around the 14 minute mark; more sloppy play forced Zags into another timeout to regroup. While they still held a convincing lead, they weren’t the dominant team from the first half.

When you have a 42-29 game at halftime, you don’t expect much different in the second half. It’s like a three games to one baseball playoff series: the reason one team is up 3-1 is usually because they’re the clear-cut better team. But sometimes the other team can come back from that deficit; sometimes a basketball team can overcome a gruesome halftime score. And let me tell you, the Bruins looked like a team facing sodomy upon defeat.

My biggest gripe: how did the Bulldogs not have a strategy for beating the press? I mean, they were only up by one with less than 35 on the game clock, so you know UCLA is running a massive press. They ran some impeccable traps and forced Zags to hand the ball to Batista, which was a horrible mistake. He hadn’t a clue what to do with the ball, and forcing a turnover there was no more difficult than swatting a 12-year-old. An easy layup, and UCLA was on top with some 1.9 seconds left.

It was all over from there. Adam Morrison was already crying on the floor; there wasn’t a chance in hell the Bulldogs were coming back here, 1.9 seconds or no 1.9 seconds. Game over.

I haven’t seen a night like this in quite a while. I hardly had time to pick my jaw up off the floor after the WVU game before it dropped again in the Bruins improbable comeback. This, folks, is why I am enamored with sports. When someone asks me, “why are you so obsessed with sports?” I’ll be able to point them to last night as a prime example.

Thursday, March 23, 2006

Farewell, John Abraham

It’s always a sad day when you lose your best player. And somber it was in New York on Tuesday, as John Abraham and the Jets parted ways. Their compensation was the 29th pick in the 2006 draft, courtesy of Denver. The Broncs acquired the Falcon’s pick, 15th overall, and the Falcons netted Denver’s 2006 third rounder, 2007 fourth rounder, and of course Abraham.

I held off from commentary on this issue for a few days because I’m not sure what to make of the situation. This was a long time coming, so it wasn’t a shock to see the headline on Hell, most of us knew this day was coming from the second the Jets slapped the Franchise Tag on Abraham one year ago. There was a visible ill-will between the two parties, and after they failed to hammer out a long term deal prior to the opening of the season, Abraham’s departure became a certainty.


If this were baseball, Abraham would have been gone a season ago, leaving the Jets no compensation. Well, they would have gotten that compensatory first rounder, but a 2005 first rounder in baseball is equivalent to a 2008 fourth or fifth rounder in the NFL. So let’s be happy that the team received an asset in return for a player who was already halfway out the door.

So in addition to picking fourth in every round except the sixth (thank you very much, Patrick Ramsey), the Jets now pick 29th in the first round, leaving them a flurry of options. For starters, they could package the 4th and 29th picks and send them to Houston for Reggie Bush. As tempting as that scenario seems, I’m not in that camp. The Jets aren’t going to compete in 2006, and most of the off-season moves have reflected that notion. Why else would they cut Kevin Mawae when it only saves them $1.1 million in 2006 cap space? (Because he now costs them nothing in 2007.)

Of course, having Reggie Bush would help the team beyond 2006. It’s not like the first pick in the draft is going to sign a one-year tender. He’d be running the ball and catching passes for five or six years wearing green and white, which is a tempting proposition. But as attractive as that could be, my buddy Scott provides the other view: “I want more draft picks, not less.”

In fact, draft picks have been the meat of our recent discussions (we talk about the Jets at least thrice weekly). Last week, he had proposed a series of moves that would net the team additional second and third round picks by trading out of the fourth spot (I’m awaiting a write-up from him on this, so I don’t want to spoil it). The theme running throughout his proposal is that more draft picks in more strategic spots (second and third rounders rather than high first rounders) will enable Mangini and Tannenbaum to rebuild the offense at an accelerated pace.

A mock draft is for another day, however. We’re more than a month away from the NFL Draft, and we all know things can change with one touch of ink to parchment. Remember a few weeks ago, how everyone assumed New Orleans was taking Matt Leinart with the second pick? Yeah, well, that’s not so much of a certainty anymore. Also, NFL execs are lying through their teeth at this point regarding their draft day intentions. No one wants to give away his strategy, but everyone wants to throw the competition off course.

ANYWAY. The departure of Abraham ostensibly means the Jets will bump first round bust Bryan Thomas into the starting gig (why they drafted Thomas with Ellis and Abraham already on board is beyond me). As the “first round bust” phrase would indicate, he hasn’t done much to beef up the defense to this point. However, Thomas may be more comfortable in the Jets new 3-4 than their old 4-3. This isn’t me purporting to have knowledge of Bryan Thomas and the 3-4 defensive scheme; rather, this is me speculating that a change could help. I actually bet Thomas will continue to fail, but I like to maintain a modicum of optimism.

In trying to make the best of the situation, I’ve come to one conclusion: it’s Vilma Time. Entering his third year in the League, Vilma is now the best defensive player on the team (with much respect going to Shaun Ellis). And not only are his skills unmatched, but he is a leader out on the field, a quality Abraham lacks (this bodes well for Atlanta as well, since they have leaders established in Patrick Kerney and Keith Brooking). Vilma is now top dog, and I expect he’ll transition into that role without a hitch.

He may not inspire fear like Ray Lewis, but he plugs the holes like Jeremiah Trotter. He may not hit as hard as Zach Thomas, but he can cut to the outside like Brian Urlacher. And he can drop into coverage to boot. Yes, even as I’m saddened by the departure of Abe, I’m getting excited about the era of Vilma.

This is a fond farewell to Abraham, whom I have admired throughout his tenure as a Jet. Unfortunately, his long-term plans did not coincide with those of the team, and a parting of ways became necessary. I do wish him the best in the ATL. But more than that, I wish Jonathan Vilma the best as the leader of the New York Jets.

Game of Shadows

In the light of my recent Bonds bashing, I'd be remiss not to mention the recent headline over at regarding Sheff and Giambi's relation to steroids.

At this point, I don't want to hear about Giambi; we did this dance last year. He knows what he did, he knows it was wrong, and all but apologized for it prior to last year. I'm willing to accept that, mainly because it's well more than anyone else involved in the BALCO case has done.

Sheff is a different story. Listen, there's no doubt in my mind that Sheff used steroids at one point. I have his rookie card, so I can see the tremendous bulk he's added. However, he seems to have added this bulk gradually, rather than over one off-season like Bonds. And when accusations were levied, Sheff stepped up and said to the press -- not just in sealed Grand Jury testimony -- that he unknowingly used "the Cream" as a rehabilitation tool.

But Game of Shadows alleges that Sheff was on an injectable testosterone. Something tells me that's not something you can unknowingly take, unless he thought he was receiving the injections for an injury, a la "The Cream." We'll see. I actually intend to pick up the book in approximately 20 minutes.

Wednesday, March 22, 2006

Another Knicks Rant

I pose a serious question: does anyone legitimately like the Knicks right now? I’m not talking about an undying love for your favorite team; plenty of us still like them in that way. But does anyone enjoy watching the starting five on a nightly basis? How could anyone answer yes to this?

Never mind their atrocious record. Forget the fact that the most incompetent executive in the history of sports is not only still running the team, but is still fully supported by the team’s owner. And try to brush aside the coach, who has done little but stroke his own ego this season. Just look at the five guys they start on a nightly basis.

Sure, it’s not consistent, but you basically know what you’re getting: Marbury, Richardson (though since he’s been hurt it’s been Franchise), Curry, Rose, and then sometimes you get Channing Frye (good idea), and sometimes you get Malik Rose (not bad, but I still don’t like him). In essence, they run a four-guard set, with Frye sometimes (depending on Larry’s mood) playing the role of second big man. But there is an inherent flaw in this lineup philosophy:



I understand that using all caps and exclamation points are the mark of an immature writer, but I feel that they are warranted in this situation. If you’re going to have a team of slashers and shooters, you best have a big man who can play some D down low, dominate the defensive boards, and give your team an adequate number of second chance opportunities. Curry does none of these. And yet, he’s the only “untouchable” player on the Knicks roster, when in fact he should be traded for 15 cents on the dollar.

That’s okay, though; there have been successful offensive-minded big men in the league before. You just need a defensive-minded big man to complement him. Unfortunately, Frye is not that guy. I’ve been saying this since Frye started to get hot early in the season: the Knicks will never find success starting those two. There’s just no way you can win with a two big men that only know how to score. Maybe Frye will prove me wrong in the off-season, hitting the gym and adding some girth. But that seems like too simple – and possibly unattainable – of a solution.

So they have two offensive-minded big men, one who powers inside and one who shoots. Okay, so maybe there are a few guards who can shore up and play D at the first level, helping out the defensively impotent big men. Too bad the Knicks sorely lack that as well. Quentin Richardson is highly lauded by Brown for his fine defensive skills, which is nice, but he’s hurt. We know Marbury can play D, but only when he feels like it. And since he doesn’t like his current situation, he’s obviously dogging it. Francis has been completely unimpressive thus far as a defender, and Jamal Crawford still looks lost when he’s attempting to contain an opponent. Nate Robinson tries the hardest on defense, but 1) he doesn’t get enough playing time and 2) he’s still figuring out ways to overcome his height disadvantage. But he’s got heart. He could certainly develop into a more than adequate defender.

I don’t think it took my words to prove that the team is flawed at the core. They have star talent, but no real team concept. By accumulating these players and their atrocious contracts, Isiah Thomas has successfully diminished their trade value. Who is going to trade for Marbury or Francis? Maybe – and this is a stretch – but maybe Kevin McHale will be desperate enough to unload KG (yes, McHale is a moron) that he’ll take on Francis in a potential trade. But not even McHale is dumb enough to consummate such a trade without fleecing the Knicks for one of their rookies (probably Frye) and a future first rounder. How is that productive?

I’m sorry to vent like this, as I’ve ranted similarly in recent weeks. But after watching the Knicks lose to the Raptors – and seeing Jamal Crawford and Nate Robinson proving their worth as the two starting guards – I’m as frustrated as ever. With Frye, Crawford, Robinson, and Lee, the Knicks have a core of relatively cheap, viable talent who are cast aside by overpaid hotdogs. The only solution is to rid the team of said hotdogs, but our GM doesn’t believe in such a philosophy.

A few Knicks tidbits before I stop ranting now (and I promise I’ll try to keep quiet as the Knicks get shellacked by Darko and the Magic tonight).

Francis wants to be traded. Well, he wants to start or be traded, and I think the latter is a mighty fine option. Twenty-five cents on the dollar. Any takers?

Channing hurts his knee. D’oh! If it’s anything remotely serious, he should pack it up and begin preparation for 2006-2007. He could start by hitting the gym, the lanky motherfucker.

Sori Update

Apparently a decision is forthcoming in the Soriano scenario. He's softened a bit on the issue of playing left field of late, to no one's surprise.

"I'm going to think about it. I'm going to talk it over with my wife and agent," Soriano said. "I want to play, but they have [Jose] Vidro at second base. I will make a decision."

The decision being, does he play left field and earn the $10 million dollars provided in his contract, or does he play the part of a whiny brat, refuse to play, and forfeit not only his eight digit salary, but his chance at free agency come November. By not playing, he would not accumulate service time, thus rendering him an arbitration player again. And there is no way he'll win a $10 million judgement if he sits out this year.

I have little doubt that Soriano will play left field for the Nationals this season. If he were to decide against playing, he would have to bank on a trade, and that's just not a safe option at this point. Remember, if he's on the disqualified list, the Nationals are not obligated to cut him a check. Therefore, GM Jim Bowden will not be as compelled to search out a swapping partner.

However, if Fonsie were to be foolish enough to make his meaningless stand, I would hold on to him until late July. Surely a team will need a second baseman and/or an offensive powerhouse at that point, and Bowden will then be able to wrench away more value. Right now, Sori is leaving a bitter taste in everyone's mouth, and as such his trade value may not be peaked. But come July, Bowden's switchboard should be lighting up.

Hell, even if he does man up and play left field this season, I would still seriously shop him near the deadline. He's a free agent after this year, and surely he'll find a team willing to pay him to play second base. So really, the Nationals are in a decent position at this point. They stand to get maximum value for Soriano at the trade deadline, and even if a trade doesn't go down, they'll net a first round draft pick when they let him walk this off-season.

Update: Yeah, yeah, he's playing left field. I'm sure he had plenty of pressure from his agent and family to do so, as it's the only move that makes sense. I still say he's long gone before July 31st.

Tuesday, March 21, 2006

Wright Injured: No $#!+, Sherlock

Carl Pavano got the ball rolling. Aaron Small was the next one to go, and it was only a matter of time before injury extraordinaire J-Wright followed. He’s going to miss his start on Thursday due to back spasms.

While he may not be pitching in a formal game this week, Peter Abraham of the Journal News and the LoHud Yankees Blog reports that the injury may not be that severe.


Jaret Wright's bad back isn't so bad after all and he could throw in the bullpen on Wednesday. Another crisis averted.

Personally, I don’t think it’s an averted crisis. Wright has been horrible this spring, and hasn’t shown much to impress the team since they inked him to a three-year, $21 million deal in the winter of 2004-2005. Thankfully, the team was smart enough to include an escape clause should Wright spend 75 days on the DL in his first two years. He met that requirement last year, spending the time between mid-April and mid-August rehabbing yet another shoulder injury.

The linked article regarding Wright’s health status scares me a bit. Mark Feinsand of and Joe Torre combine for some scary ideas regarding the team’s plans for the injury-embattled pitcher in 2006.

Wright has been in competition with Chien-Ming Wang and Shawn Chacon for the final two starting spots in the rotation, though the Yankees will need just four starters for the first two weeks of the season.

"I don't know if this is going to keep him from being a starter," said Torre. "We'll see how he comes out of it, where he is when he comes back to the mound."

Both Wang and Chacon have pitched well this spring, with Chacon displaying the most promise, allowing just one run in his eleven innings thus far. Wang has yielded three runs in his nine innings, though those numbers don’t tell the whole story, since he had a terrible first outing and took an inning to settle down in his second appearance. On the whole, he looks as solid as can be. Both are more than deserving of a rotation spot.

J-Wright, however, has been J-rocked this spring, allowing 12 runs and 21 hits in his 11 2./3 innings. I realize that he is paid more than Wang and Chacon put together, but that should matter little when determining a starting rotation. Wright had a chance to prove himself last year, but was stupid and succumbed to a shoulder injury in the early goings. Wang came in and stepped up, while Chacon was the best pitcher on the staff since arriving in late July. How then is J-Wright even under consideration for the fifth spot?

Maybe this is just talk to keep Wright’s confidence up. Ballplayers read the papers, too, and many of them search for anything written about them. If Torre concedes that the rotation is a foregone conclusion at this point, Wright’s psyche may take a serious blow. In that case, he likely wouldn’t even be effective out of the bullpen (though I honestly don’t think he’ll be of use regardless).

All I can say now is that I’m praying that Pavano doesn’t face any more setbacks at this point. He may not be the ideal answer for the Yankees pitching woes, but he’s certainly a safer bet than the guy with the glass arm. I know Opening Day is just a few weeks away, but I have my sights nervously set on April 15th (and not because it’s tax day).

Come on, Sori, You're Better Than That

The Day of Reckoning for Soriano was going to come sooner or later. After all, the Dominicans couldn’t stay in the WBC forever. Just prior to his departure, Soriano spoke of his situation, saying the Nationals "have three weeks to fix it." Three weeks later, and the Nats are still firm in their stance that Soriano will play left field or not play at all.

Nats GM Jim Bowden is handling this situation in all-star fashion, taking hard lines, making the team’s position clear, and letting everyone know that the Washington Nationals, not Alfonso Soriano, will dictate the outcome of this situation. Here are a few excerpts from Bowden’s press endeavors:

"The player refused to take the field, which we believe is a violation of his contract.”

"He's going to play left field. He needs to be out there now the next couple of weeks to play, and if he's not going to play for us, we need to know so we can go forward."

"We told him if we get to Thursday, and he refuses to play left field, we told him at that point we will request that the commissioner's office place him on the disqualified list, at that time -- no pay, no service time."

"If he refuses to play and goes home, and the commissioner's office accepts our request to place him on the disqualified list, then at that point, if he were to sit out this year, he would not be a free agent, he would stay our property because his service time would stay the same."

While I fully laud Bowden’s efforts to rectify this situation, I have to take a step back and look at the other side of the argument. Soriano has never been a reliable second baseman, and there have been perpetual talks of moving him to the outfield, at which he has balked each time. So why would the Nationals deal for him, knowing his steadfast stance on the issue? Furthermore, why would they give up Brad Wilkerson to do so? It may even seem like Bowden brought this misery upon himself by consummating this transaction.

I don’t see it that way, however. This deal made perfect sense from Washington’s standpoint. The package was Wilkerson, Terrmel Sledge, and a minor-league pitcher to be named later, so let’s start with that. Sledge turned 29 on Saturday, and has been little more than a career minor-leaguer to this point. He was semi-impressive in his stint with the Expos in 2004, posting averages of .269/.336/.193 (remember, Iso, not Slg). But he couldn’t find the same stroke in 2005, posting .243/.348/.135 averages before being demoted to Triple-A Edmonton. And apparently his .324/.397/.221 performance there wasn’t enough to even warrant a September call-up. His fate was sealed.

Wilkerson is a more complex situation. He started 2005 on a hot streak, hitting .323/.393/.229 in April, but dropped off considerably afterwards, finishing with averages of .248/.351/.157 – including 42 doubles, good for 7th place in the NL. Certainly, those numbers aren’t terrible for a center fielder (though you’d much rather see them from a middle infielder or catcher), but Bowden obviously believed that Wilkerson’s April was an aberration, and that he wouldn’t contribute to the level that the Nats needed. Remember, Washington ranked dead last in the NL in runs scored, so a more powerful bat, especially in the outfield, was required for an upgrade.

Enter Soriano. Texas made it abundantly clear that he would be available in the 2005-2006 off-season, since the team did not wish to dish out the monster arbitration settlement he was inevitably going to get. So they dished him for well less than market value, though the trade just created an outfield bottleneck. Wilkerson plays the same position as two guys already on the Rangers roster, Gary Matthews, Jr. and Laynce Nix. In addition, they have Kevin Mench and David Dellucci out there, plus Phil Nevin to fill the DH role. And with Sledge, the Rangers finagled another lopsided trade, sending him, hot prospect Adrian Gonzalez, and young, promising starter Chris Young for soon-to-be free agent Adam Eaton (who, by the way, managed a 4.27 ERA, 1.43 WHIP, and .275 BAA last year…with the PADRES).

But I digress. With Wilkerson out of the picture, the Nationals could place Ryan Church in center, who posted averages of .287/.353/.179 over 268 at bats in 2005. If he can prorate that over an entire season, he becomes an instant upgrade over Wilkerson. At the more hitting oriented corners, the Nats would boast Jose Guillen and Soriano, which undoubtedly gives them considerably more offensive prowess in 2006. And with the always-affable Nick Johnson at first, Jose Vidro at second, Ryan Zimmerman at third, Christian Guzman and his improved vision at short, and Brian Schneider behind the plate, Jim Bowden had assembled a team that could compete with the shakiest Braves team in 14 years.

But then Soriano threw the whole plan for a loop when he came out with his “I wont’ play left field” tirade, which made Bowden look at least a little foolish for pulling the trigger on this trade. But remember, Soriano has a contract to play baseball for the Washington Nationals, not to exclusively play second base for the team. His job is to play where the manager tells him to play on a daily basis. And if he refuses, he is in the wrong, not the general manager who traded for him.

The most likely scenario at this point is a trade. However, the Nats may hit a wall on that front. How many teams need a second baseman and can afford Soriano’s $10 million price tag, AND are willing to give up legitimate talent for Sori? The only teams that even meet the first two parameters are the Mets, maybe the Angels, maybe the Cubs, and maybe the Indians. There’s little chance Bowden would ship him to their NL East mates the Mets.

Of the other three, I would think the Cubs would be the most likely destination. There have been rumblings that they’re unhappy with Todd Walker, and surely Jim Hendry would be willing to part ways with a few prospects to obtain a proven bat. But will Bowden accept just prospects? Felix Pie would be nice, but 1) can Hendry build a viable package around him and 2) would he even be willing to part ways with him at this point?

The Angles have the prospects, and Soriano would be a significant upgrade over incumbent Adam Kennedy. Once again, it’s going to depend on Bill Stoneman’s willingness to trade away someone like Erick Aybar or someone like that (because he surely wouldn’t consider parting ways with Brandon Wood). And, as before, we don’t know if Bowden is interested in such prospects.

Come to think of it, I’m quite surprised that there won’t be much of a market for Soriano. I mean, the last time he was traded, John Hicks was willing to part ways with A-Rod for him. And now he can’t catch an upper echelon prospect?

The other option is to place Fonzie on the disqualified list, as was discussed today. And by the way, I absolutely loved that Bowden referred to Soriano as Washington’s property. You know, just to remind him who’s in charge.

It’s doubtful that the situation will get that far. When you have to choose between switching positions and sitting out the year, not getting paid and being in the same situation – only you stand to make considerably less coin – the choice is obvious, right? There’s a fine line between standing your ground and being a complete buffoon.

I’m just hoping Sori understands where that line is.

Succeeding Tags?

So the big news of the day was that Paul Tagliabue is stepping down as Commissioner of the NFL. So who's next, you ask? Well, the guys over at Pro Football Talk have an interesting suggestion.

The job, as we see it, primarily is about public relations and consensus building. The Commish spend a lot of time pressing flesh and bending ears, which makes social and communication skills the key ingredients in any potential candidate.

A burning, rabid passion for the sport is also critical.

Business acumen and savvy are also important, but the P.R. aspect, we believe, are far more vital as television, the Internet, and the expansion of the sport's international presence become the focal point of the league's continued revenue growth.

Our preference, at least initially?

Chris Berman.

Good stuff.

Monday, March 20, 2006

Kevin Thompson For Fourth/Fifth Outfielder

We all thought the 25-man roster was all but a foregone conclusion. Hampered by a glut of pitching (a phrase that should never be used to describe a staff), the Yankees know they are only carrying 13 position players to go with their 12 hurlers. This inflexibility means the team will have to carefully select the bench players, since an ill-advised choice could mean a few wins down the road.

Back in November and December, there was quite a stir as to the status of center field at Yankee Stadium. Bernie was certainly out of the equation, as his atrocious 2005 cost the team plenty. Scott Boras still had limitless expectations regarding Johnny Damon, and the common thought was that he’d eventually sign with Boston at a discounted price. Jeremy Reed’s name was floated around, with Carl Pavano and cash as compensation. Many thought the deal made sense, but the question marks regarding Pavano’s health and Reed’s true potential all but precluded a swap.

During this time, I came to grips with the current situation, and was resolute to starting Bubba in center. My logic was that he couldn’t be any worse than Bernie in the field, and once installed as a full-time player – with much attention from Don Mattingly – he could be a cheap alternative that wouldn’t kill the team offensively. I was opposed by many, who simply thought (and likely still think) that Bubba will never cut it as a regular.

If I had my way now, however, Bubba wouldn’t even get a chance as a backup.

The spring began without Crosby, as he was forced to sit out with an index finger injury. He could have made an emphatic case for his candidacy, considering that four Yankees – two of whom are outfielders – were absent for the WBC. So with three outfielders out, we got a chance to see some young’uns get serious playing time. A few impressed to a certain degree, but one truly stuck out.

He may not really be a young’un, but his name is Kevin Thompson, and surely you’ve heard of him by now. You may have read a piece on him over at Pending Pinstripes (and if you haven’t, you should). You may have also noticed his spring numbers: 32 at bats in which he has posted averages of .436/.476/.154 (it should be noted that I’m using the ISO stat here instead of SLG, since it is more telling of a player’s true power). I am now officially advocating him to make the squad over Bubba Crosby.

The Thompson issue is complicated, however. For starters, the Yanks are out of options on Bubba, meaning that leaving him off the 25-man roster is equivalent to cutting him. Since we’re talking about a fourth/fifth outfielder here, the impact of either from the outset of the season will be negligible. As such, I expect Crosby to make the roster, and Thompson to be sent down to Columbus by mid-April, after he’s done filling Pavano’s or Small’s spot.

However, that doesn’t mean I have to agree with the decision. Not only is Thompson younger than Crosby, but he’s flashed considerably more talent and certainly has a higher ceiling. Placing him on the Major League club (and under the tutelage of Mattingly) will only benefit him. Surely, he’ll make his way into the lineup once a week, which should be adequate for someone of Thompson’s caliber. And who knows, maybe he’ll become a viable pinch hitting option, something lacking from recent Yankees squads (and something we can’t expect from Crosby).

The only argument I can fathom against Thompson’s bid for the 25th roster spot is the benefit of playing every day in Columbus. But seriously, the guy has played in 560 minor league games, worth 2115 at bats. He has a .366 career minor league OBP, a full .089 points higher than his .277 career batting average. He’s also flashed some power with a .167 ISO rating. So when we look at his minor league numbers combined with spring training, we know the guy can hit. We can also see that he’s a rather efficient base stealer, at 79 percent for his career.

When I consider Thompson’s ceiling, his current hot streak, and his ostensible desire to make the Major League squad, I see a guy who can make a solid contribution in 2006. I understand the arguments against him, but I just thing the yeas outweigh the nays. Plus, when you consider the Yanks may have a trade partner for Crosby, the case for Thompson becomes even more emphatic. On the other hand, why would the Marlins give up anything for a soon-to-be 30-year-old who is hitting .190/.227/.191 for the spring (though it is in a mere 21 at bats)? But by the same logic, why would the Yankees want him?

I fully understand the concept of risk/reward, and as such realize that Bubba’s lack of options will likely solidify his 2006 Opening Day roster spot. The risk is low, since he can be jettisoned once he proves he’s not a capable backup, at which point Thompson can get The Call.

But I’m not Brian Cashman; my vision for the team doesn’t have to follow a line of impeccable logic. I’m a fan. So when it comes to a situation like Bubba’s, I have no problem saying that he’s a bum (even if I purported the contrary a few months earlier) and that Thompson should be on the Opening Day roster. My logic: cut off the problem before it begins, give the new guy the chance he deserves. Cashman’s logic: giving Bubba the roster spot won’t realistically cost more than a win, and he can be released at any point.

I still like my vision.

Sunday, March 19, 2006

Stupid Mainstream Media

Ever since Johnny Damon put ink to parchment, the mainstream media has done nothing but gab about how the Yankees finally have the "true leadoff hitter" they've been lacking since the days of Chuck Knoblauch.

I'll admit, it's nice to have a guy batting ahead of Jeter. He's a versatile hitter who has found success in the No. 1 and No. 2 holes. But please, Mainstream Media, don't forcefeed me garbage about Damon being a better leadoff hitter than Jeter. Want proof? Thanks to Dave Pinto's Day to Day Database over at Baseball Musings, we can now calculate things like, say, highest OBP for guys hitting leadoff over the past five years (actually, Pinto links right to that very statistic on his main page).

Okay, I'm being rather longwinded, so I'll cut to the chase. Derek Jeter is No. 1 on the list. And he's 31 points higher than Damon. And when we sort the list for Slugging Percentage (min 1000 PA), Jeter is second only to Alfonso Soriano. He's also 56 points up on Damon.

So while I (kind of) agree that Damon batting first and Jeter second is the optimal arrangement for this lineup, I don't want to hear how Damon is a better leadoff hitter. It's not true. These aren't just their stats from 2000-2005, they're the stats as a leadoff hitter from 2000-2005.

Mad Gary

Less than a week ago, I read something in the paper about Gary Sheffield, in which he seemed happy to be in New York. Having followed Sheff through most of his career, I knew better than to think this feeling would last. And I was right.

In today's Daily News, Sheff lashes out as if he didn't make those statements earlier in the week.

"I've really never got comfortable," Sheffield said before the Yanks beat the Marlins, 8-3, at Roger Dean Stadium. "I'm not comfortable. I'm not allowed to be comfortable. That's the reality of my situation. I always have to play with my back against the wall."

Sheffield also said there will be "just one more year of that and then I don't have to do it no more," an obvious reference to his contract situation with the Bombers. The Yankees hold a $13 million club option on Sheffield for 2007 and the issue of whether it will be exercised has popped up several times already this spring. At points, Sheffield seemed to imply he wouldn't mind if the Yanks let him go.

It's going to be a tumultuous year.